Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is now the third leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, an umbrella term that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis – yet most people know little about it. After years of being seen as a man’s disease, COPD is now also common in women, and more women are dying of the disease than ever before, according the American Lung Association.
“Both men and women who are familiar with COPD often have misconceptions,” says Lisa Powell, CVMC Pulmonary Service Coordinator RRT, RCP. “But information is power. The more you know, the better you’ll feel. Here are 5 COPD myths, and the truths that everyone should know about.”
COPD Myth 1: COPD is a death sentence | “People live a long time with COPD,” Lisa says. “Especially now that we have many therapies that improve your chances of living longer with COPD. True, COPD never goes away, and it’s a progressive disease; but it can be managed. It requires doing some things that may be really tough, like quitting smoking and getting plenty of exercise. But if you work closely with your healthcare team and follow your treatment plan, you’ll find that COPD doesn’t have to be a death sentence or a daily struggle.
COPD Myth 2: It’s too late to quit smoking | Many COPD patients are under the false impression that it won’t do them any good to quit smoking since their lungs are already damaged. “That’s absolutely not true,” Lisa says. “Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do to live better with COPD. If you have COPD and you’re still smoking, you’re not giving your treatments a chance to work. You will never be able to undo the damage you’ve done to your lungs; but if you have COPD and smoke, you won’t be able to slow the progression of your disease, and you will find it harder to breathe. If you have COPD and quit smoking, you will feel better almost immediately. If you continue to smoke, you increase your risk of death from COPD by more than 12 times.”
COPD Myth 3: If I have to go on oxygen, it means I’m dying | People with COPD often fear oxygen therapy, but many patients can live 10 years or more with oxygen. COPD patients need oxygen when the oxygen level in their blood is low. Low oxygen can strain your heart, cause blood clots to form and harm your brain. When COPD patients go on oxygen therapy, they feel less tired and healthier, and experience that out-of-breath feeling less often. If you need oxygen therapy, know that it can help you manage your COPD and live longer.
COPD Myth 4: People with COPD can’t exercise | Many people with COPD are afraid to exercise, thinking it is unsafe and will make them short of breath. The fact is that people with COPD need to exercise because it decreases the chances of acquiring infections and being admitted to the hospital. Exercise doesn’t drain your energy. Rather, it energizes you and helps you feel less tired. Talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate exercises and breathing techniques in pulmonary rehabilitation, and maintain that level of exercise going forward.
COPD Myth 5: COPD is the same as asthma | Despite similarities, asthma and COPD are very different diseases. While both are inflammatory conditions that cause coughing and wheezing, about 15% of people can have both asthma and COPD. Asthma can develop at any age, but most people get asthma as children or teens. COPD develops slowly over time, and most people are 40 or older when symptoms become noticeable. Asthma can flare if you’re exposed to allergens such as dust, pollen, or pet dander, but you can be symptom-free between episodes. People with COPD experience flares or exacerbations when they get a cold or an upper respiratory infection or are exposed to smoke or other lung irritants. Asthma is treated with long-term medications to reduce airway inflammation and quick-relief or “rescue” bronchodilators, as needed. COPD patients need to be on long-lasting inhalers as opposed to rescue medications.
Become a Better Breather and Discover the Truth about Managing COPD – It is inevitable that your life will change after being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It may not be as easy to do the things you used to do before. Not only are there physical challenges, there are emotional challenges too. The good news is that you can find support to help make lifestyle changes, better manage your COPD and enhance your quality of life.
An important part of living with COPD is finding the right support, both for you and your caregivers. CVMC is committed to providing information, resources and tools to help COPD patients understand, manage treatment plans, implement lifestyle changes, find support and take action. Our Better Breathers Club promotes awareness of ways to make living with COPD easier. During the monthly Better Breathers Club meetings, medical providers discuss topics including pulmonary rehab, cleaning respiratory equipment, medications and legal documents. The club meets the first Thursday of every other month from 1 to 2pm in the Wellness Center located in the CVMC Outpatient Rehabilitation Building on the CVMC campus at 1810 Fairgrove Church Road. Mark your calendar for the next Better Breather’s Club on October 1st from 1pm to 2pm. For more information, please email Lisa Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 828.326.2567.
Sources Cited: Everydayhealth.com; American Lung Association